Book Review: “Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England” by Tracy Borman

MatildaOne of the most critical years in English history was 1066, when William Duke of Normandy invaded England in the Norman Conquest. Known as William the Conqueror, his strength and ruthlessness made him a legend, but William would not have been the Duke or King of England without his equally formidable wife. Matilda of Flanders stood her ground, became the Duchess of Normandy, had a large family with William, and would become the first crowned Queen of England. Although much has been written about William the Conqueror and the Norman Conquest, Matilda of Flanders has not received the same attention until now. Tracy Borman has written the first biography dedicated to this remarkable woman entitled, “Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England.”

I enjoyed reading her previous book about Henry VIII and the men who made him, and I wanted to read more books by Tracy Borman. When I heard about this book, it drew me in because I did not know much about Matilda of Flanders and her time, so I wanted to learn more.

Matilda of Flanders, the daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders and his wife, Adela, was one of the prominent women in 9th-century Europe. Borman shows how Flanders grew from a lawless society to a significant court that drew the attention of the dukedom of Normandy. Normandy was the home of William, the illegitimate son of Duke Robert I and his mistress Herleva. William shocked Europe when he became his father’s heir as Duke of Normandy and chose Matilda as his wife. To say they had a rocky start was an understatement, but Matilda and William had a large family and solidified Normandy as a powerhouse of Europe.

With the death of Edward the Confessor, William and Matilda saw their opportunity to take a bigger prize, the crown of England. While William had the military know-how to win the crown, it was Matilda who was able to help William with his conquest financially and took care of Normandy while he was taking care of his new kingdom. In return, William had Matilda crowned Queen of England.

However, not everything was perfect for William and Matilda. When their eldest son, Robert Curthose, was fed up with not getting the chance to become the Duke of Normandy as was his birthright, he rebelled, and Matilda decided to support her son over her husband. Matilda was not afraid to speak her mind, even if it felt like she was going beyond what was expected of a woman during that time. Matilda’s death in 1083 impacted the rest of William’s reign as King of England as the king mourned for the woman who could stand toe to toe with the great conqueror.

Borman has taken on the arduous task of telling the tale of Matilda of Flanders, and she absolutely smashes it. This biography is engaging and thought-provoking, revealing who Matilda was when you remove the myths surrounding her life. If you want a delightful biography about the first crowned Queen of England, I highly suggest reading “Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England” by Tracy Borman.

Book Review: “Do Let’s Have Another Drink: The Singular Wit and Double Measures of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother” by Gareth Russell

63140301The House of Windsor has been attracting worldwide attention in recent decades with scandals, deaths, weddings, and the birth of royal children. As living symbols of England, the Windsors are seen as an above-average family with numerous jobs and responsibilities. We know their names; King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Prince (now King) Charles, Princess Diana, and Prince William. We know their stories from the numerous books, tabloids, and documentaries about their lives, but what about their lives when they go home to relax? Gareth Russell peels back the gilded curtain to explore the life of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, lovingly known as the Queen Mother, in his latest biography, “Do Let’s Have Another Drink: The Singular Wit and Double Measures of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.”

This is not my usual area of interest, especially for my blog, but I have always wanted to learn more about the House of Windsor. A few years ago, I read “The King’s Speech” about King George VI, and I wanted to learn more about his wife, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. When Gareth Russell announced that he was writing this biography about the Queen Mother, it sounded enchanting, and I wanted to read it.

This biography is not like your typical biography. It goes in chronological order, but unlike others that include copious details of the person’s life, Russell decided to give his readers a different experience by telling the Queen Mother’s story in 101 vignettes, one for each year of her life. It is a unique and fun way to tell the tale of a member of the royal family, especially Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who lived through both World Wars and saw her husband and daughter become King and Queen of England, respectively.

The short stories of her life as a young Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon were heartfelt and full of personality. I learned some fun facts about her early life, such as George VI had to propose to Elizabeth three separate times until she said yes, to the relief of George’s mother, Queen Mary. Elizabeth had a colorful way of looking at life and was not afraid to speak her mind, especially after a few cocktails or what she would call “drinky-poos.” Her life drastically changed when her brother-in-law Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, leaving the throne to his brother George VI and Elizabeth, the new King and Queen of England.

As Queen of England and later the Queen Mother, we see her tenacity and humorous side emerge as Elizabeth could be herself. She was a lover of life, and even though she had feuds with members of her family, such as Wallis Simpson and Princess Diana, she truly loved and fought for her family until the very end of her long life.

Russell does a magnificent job telling the story of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother thoughtfully and engagingly. The stories included in this book range from utterly hysterical to gut-wrenching, with every other emotion in between. Another masterpiece by Gareth Russell, “Do Let’s Have Another Drink: The Singular Wit and Double Measures of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother,” is the perfect gift for fans of the English Royal Family.

Book Review: “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France” by Leonie Frieda

255134When we think about women rulers in the 16th century, some names, like Queen Mary I, Queen Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots, come to mind. However, another woman should be included in this list as her life helped keep the Valois dynasty alive and well in France, even though she was Italian by birth. Her name has been tainted with dark legends of poisoning, deadly incidents, and the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. This notorious queen was Catherine de Medici, and Leonie Frieda has chosen to shed some light on the myths and mysteries surrounding this misunderstood woman in her biography, “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France.”

Catherine de Medici’s life was rough as her parents, Lorenzo II de Medici Duke of Urbino and Madeleine de La Tour d’ Auvergne, died shortly after she was born. A wealthy young heiress who was now an orphan, Catherine’s marriage was vital for the success of her family. The union meant for the young woman was with Henry II of France, the son of Francis I. Catherine fell deeply in love with Henry II. Still, another person in this marriage was Henry II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers. It took a while for Catherine and Henry to have the heirs necessary for their union to prove successful, but they did have ten children, including three sons that would become King of France; Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III.

When her beloved husband, King Henry II, died in a jousting accident, a lance in the eye, Catherine had to step up and protect her family, no matter what. Her first son to be King was Francis II, alongside his Scottish bride, Mary Queen of Scots, but he died after only a year on the throne from a severe earache. Catherine had to act as regent for her third son, King Charles IX, as he was too young to rule independently. Unfortunately, his reign was mired by several wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants. One of the most tumultuous events of his reign occurred in August 1572, known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which left a massive black mark on the legacy of Catherine de Medici for her supposed role in the disaster. After the death of Charles IX, Catherine had to once again act as regent as her fourth and favorite son, Henry III, had to make the journey back to France after being named King of Poland. Catherine de Medici died in 1589, and her favorite son Henry III died a few months later, ending the Valois dynasty and making way for the Bourbon dynasty in France.

In my opinion, I found this book a tad dry in areas, especially concerning the eight wars of religion in France. As someone who doesn’t read much about 16th-century France and its politics, this book was a bit of a challenge for me, and I felt that in some places, Catherine de Medici was more of a side character than the principal character in her biography. I also felt that Frieda focused on the black myth of Catherine de Medici and her supposed evil deeds instead of trying to debunk them.

Overall, I think this was a decent biography. Frieda does have a passion for her subject, and it shows from the political quagmire that she tries to navigate to the fun facts about Catherine and her family. If you know the story of Catherine de Medici and 16th-century France, you might find this book fascinating, but it might be challenging for novices in this area of research. If you want to know more about Catherine de Medici, “Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France” by Leonie Frieda could be the book for you.

Book Review: “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts

cover264519-medium (1)When we think about those who rose through the ranks to achieve significant titles in the Tudor Court, we instantly think about Thomas Cromwell. However, we should also consider his mentor as one of these great men, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The son of Robert Wolsey, an Ispwich businessman, and his wife, Joan Daundy, who worked hard and ended up being the right-hand man of the young King Henry VIII. The man behind Hampton Court helped start the Great Matter and The Field of Cloth of Gold, Wolsey had numerous achievements. Who was the man behind these significant Tudor moments? This is the question Phil Roberts tries to address in his book, “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Netgalley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this title, it was intriguing to me. I had not read many biographies about Thomas Wolsey, so I was excited to read this book.

Roberts begins by showing how Wolsey has been portrayed in other books and media such as films and TV dramas. He then dives into the complex task of tracking the Wolsey family from the Norman Conquest to the Wars of the Roses, which did feel a tad rushed. I wish he had included some family trees so that his readers could follow along with the different branches of the family.

Wosley had a personal life outside of his public persona with his illegitimate children, his loyal friends, and the enemies he made along the way, including Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Roberts spends a lot of time looking at the different aspects of Wolsey’s life, like his policies, the schools he built in Ispwich, and his own homes. Finally, Roberts explores how Wolsey fell from the good graces of King Henry VIII and the last days filled with anguish as he slowly died from an illness.

Although Roberts presented interesting facts about Thomas Wolsey, I think the structure of his book was a bit all over the place. In the beginning, he spent a lot of time looking into the history of Ispwich and its schools and church, including a lengthy segment about a missing statue, before getting into Wolsey’s life story. I found this information fascinating, but I don’t know if it was important enough to spend that much time on it. These facts would have been more appropriate in a book about Ispwich. Another thing that threw me off was that Roberts did not write this biography in chronological order of the events until the end of this book.

Overall, I thought this book had enlightening factoids about Thomas Wolsey, but it needed some tweaking to make it a brilliant biography. This is a book for someone who knows the general facts about the Cardinal but wants to learn more about this man. If this sounds like you, I recommend you read “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts.

Book Review: “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell” by Caroline Angus

cover260114-mediumWhen we think about the men who surrounded King Henry VIII, a few names come to mind. Cranmer, More, Wolsey, and Wroithesley are just a few, but the man who is synonymous with the infamous king’s reign is Thomas Cromwell. The man who helped Henry get his divorce from Katherine of Aragon saw both the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn. He also assisted in the dissolution of the monasteries and brought reform to England with the break from the Roman Catholic Church. To modern audiences, it feels as if we know everything that there was to know about Thomas Cromwell’s public life, but what was he like in his private life when his friends and family surrounded him? Caroline Angus gives her readers an insight into Cromwell’s personal life in her latest book, “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I love finding new perspectives about historical figures, like Thomas Cromwell, so when I heard that Caroline Angus was writing this book, I was delighted. I wanted to see what new information this book could provide about Thomas Cromwell’s life.

Angus begins her new nonfiction book on Cromwell by showing the origins of the Cromwell family and how Thomas went from the son of a blacksmith to his journeys in Italy, especially in Florence. It is impressive to see how Thomas’ influential friends from Florence would help shape how he conducted business later on in life as one of King Henry VIII’s top counselors. Thomas must have been a polymath to achieve the astronomical rise to power that we see him go through that landed him in the workforce of Thomas Wolsey.

Under Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell’s private and public life became insanely busy as he gained the king’s respect. He would be the principal architect for the dissolution of monasteries and helped Henry VIII gain his divorce from Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. As Cromwell became a player in Tudor politics, he married Elizabeth Williams and had several children. As Cromwell’s family grew, so did Thomas’ roles at the court of Henry VIII. He was the king’s number one advisor and was asked to perform the most difficult tasks, like bringing the downfall of Anne Boleyn and breaking England from the Roman Catholic Church. In a way, Thomas Cromwell was the Tudor equivalent of Alexander Hamilton.

I enjoyed this book because we see Cromwell as a human being, not just some lofty historical figure. He was a man who climbed the social ladder with his talents and his connections throughout England and Europe. With every title and every bill passed, Cromwell gained new enemies, who would lead to Thomas Cromwell’s downfall after the disastrous marriage between Henry VIII and Anna of Cleves. His fall was so dramatically quick that even Henry VIII regretted killing Thomas Cromwell.

Angus’s passion for comprehensively telling Cromwell’s story for scholars and students of Tudor history shines through this book. Her research is meticulous as she balances Thomas’ public life and private life to tell the whole story of the legendary man. If you are interested in understanding the life of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant and trusted advisor, I recommend reading “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell” by Caroline Angus.

Book Review: “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son” by Julia A. Hickey

cover260109-mediumWhen we study the life of Queen Elizabeth I, the image of a virgin queen who never married tends to come to mind. Of course, she had a man who she favored above all others, Robert Dudley, but he married several times to Amy Robsart and Lettice Knollys. It was with Lettice Knollys that Robert Dudley was able to produce his heir, aptly named Robert Dudley Lord Denbigh, who unfortunately died at a young age. Robert Dudley was left without a legitimate heir, but he did have another son, albeit an illegitimate son, also named Robert Dudley. Julia A Hickey has decided to examine the life of the illegitimate Robert Dudley in her book, “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I am always in the mood to learn about someone from the Tudor period I have never heard about before. I did not know that Robert Dudley had an illegitimate son and that he might have been married before he married Lettice Knollys, so I was excited to learn more about this mysterious son.

Hickey begins her biography about this often forgotten Dudley by exploring the origins of the Dudley family and how his father was able to rise from the ashes to become Queen Elizabeth’s favorite. I think she did a decent job explaining Dudley’s history, but Hickey tends to jump around instead of staying in chronological order with specific issues, which is a pet peeve for me. I also felt like this background information went on for a bit too long, but that might have been because I had just recently read a biography about Dudley, so most of the background information was not new to me.

Robert Dudley had fallen in love and allegedly married one of Elizabeth I’s maids of honor, Douglas Sheffield, who was Robert “Robin” Dudley’s mother. Robert Dudley would later marry Lettice Knollys to the ire of Queen Elizabeth I and had a son named Robert Dudley to add to the confusion, known as Lord Denbigh or “the noble imp.” After Robert’s legitimate son, we see the rise of Robin Dudley, as he became an explorer and trader in the silk industry. We also see Robin Dudley dealing with romantic scandals, notably leaving England, his wife Alice Leigh, and their growing family to flee to France with his mistress and future wife, Elizabeth Southwell. Robin and Elizabeth were married even though Robin never divorced Alice, thus committing bigamy and making him an enemy of the Stuarts, especially King James I.

Robin was also allegedly involved in the Essex Rebellion but only stayed in prison for a short time. He tried to gain legitimacy through a court case arguing that his parents were indeed married, but it failed spectacularly. Besides the scandals, Robin was an adventurer and deeply fascinated with navigation; his most notable work, The Secrets of the Sea, was the 1st atlas of the sea ever published. It was interesting to see how Robin’s life transformed as he worked in Italy until the end of his life and how he dealt with living during the reigns of Elizabeth and the early Stuarts in different ways.

I wanted to learn more about the early Stuart kings and the different issues that Hickey included in this book that were unfamiliar to me. Robert “Robin” Dudley lived quite a fascinating life, and I think he would have made his father Robert Dudley proud with his adventures to new lands and the book The Secrets of the Seas. Suppose you are also interested in learning more about Robert Dudley and his illegitimate son. In that case, I recommend reading “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son” by Julia A. Hickey.

Book Review: “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

cover260113-medium (1)When we think of those who made an impact in history, we tend to think of those who have been born to a married couple and therefore were considered legitimate children, especially when it comes to royal children. However, we know that illegitimate royal children, like William the Conqueror, greatly impacted history. Illegitimate royal children may have been barred from becoming king or queen of their respective countries of birth, but that does not mean they didn’t impact how their home country was governed. One of these children who affected politics during the Tudor dynasty was Arthur Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of Edward IV. In her latest book, “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle,” she explores the life of this man who gives us extraordinary insight into the running of Calais and how Henry VIII treated other family members.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous books I read by Sarah-Beth Watkins, and when I heard that she was writing a new book about Arthur Plantagenet, I was thrilled to read it. I have only heard about Arthur Plantagenet as a side character in other biographies and novels during Henry VIII’s reign, so I was looking forward to learning more about this man.

Watkins begins by exploring the possible birth dates and Arthur’s birth mother, which is a difficult challenge because Edward IV was known for having several mistresses that we know about and probably others who have remained secrets in history. While some illegitimate children were not acknowledged by their royal fathers, it looks like Edward IV accepted Arthur and allowed him to have a good education that would have followed his legitimate sons’ education regime. After the shocking death of Edward IV and the reign of Richard III, we see Arthur establishing himself in the court of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York; we have records of Elizabeth of York taking care of her illegitimate half-brother. Arthur was so close to Elizabeth of York that he attended her funeral.

Arthur’s rise during the reign of Henry VIII focuses on this title. We see how Arthur started as a Spear of Honour and worked his way up to Viscount Lisle after Charles Brandon became Duke of Suffolk. He was a Knight of the Garter, the Vice Admiral of the Tudor Navy, and finally became Lord Deputy of Calais. Arthur was married twice to Elizabeth Grey and Honor Greenville, and although Elizabeth was the one who gave Arthur his daughters, Honor was the one who we know the most about because of the Lisle Letters.

With the title of Lord Deputy of Calais came significant responsibilities for taking care of France’s last remaining English city. Arthur Plantagenet had to deal with your average repairs, preparing the town for battle, civil disputes, religious quarrels, and plots against King Henry VIII. The time that Arthur and Honor were in Calais was a tumultuous time for England and Henry, and we get to see how Arthur felt about these issues, like the Pole family drama, through his Lisle letters. The connection with the Pole family led Arthur to become a prisoner in the Tower of London for two years as he was connected to the Botolf plot to take the city of Calais for the Pope.

Watkins brings the life of Arthur Plantagenet to the forefront and gives this hidden illegitimate Plantagenet his time to shine. It was a fascinating read, especially learning about how Calais was maintained and about the Botolf plot, which I had never heard about before reading this book. If you want an excellent book that introduces the life of Arthur Plantagenet and his role during the reign of King Henry VIII, I would highly recommend you read “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

Book Review: “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle

C1629377When we think of famous artists in the 15th and 16th centuries, we focus on the great European masters. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albrecht Durer tend to come immediately to mind. However, one man from Augsburg, Germany, revolutionized how we viewed the Tudor dynasty through portraiture: Hans Holbein the Younger. Many are familiar with his famous works of art and how they influenced how the Tudors have been perceived for centuries, but the man behind the masterpieces has been overlooked. His story and how art was understood in the 16th century is told in Franny Moyle’s latest biography, “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein.”

Before I read this book, I did not know much about Hans Holbein, the man behind the art. I knew about his masterpieces like his portraits of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII, and The Ambassadors, which I love to marvel at, but the man himself was a complete mystery. When this book was announced, I knew I wanted to read it to learn more about the master Hans Holbein.

Hans Holbein the Younger was from a family of artists; his father was Hans Holbein the Elder, and his older brother Ambrosius were also artisans, but they never reached the level of prestige as the youngest member of the family. Holbein the Younger was willing to break the mold and create art his way. Before finishing his apprenticeship, he signed his artwork and ensured that he was not in debt like Holbein the Elder. Holbein the Younger decided to move to Basel, Switzerland, to make his name. Here, Holbein was introduced to men like Erasmus and the ideas of humanism and Protestantism. It was in Basel where Holbein married Elsbeth Schmidt and started his family.

Holbein did not stay in Basel as he was destined to travel to England to be the painter for King Henry VIII. Holbein’s paintings for Henry VIII and his court are some of the most stunning images in 16th century England. The way Holbein was able to paint his subjects in such a life-like style is astonishing. However, when you pair it with Moyle’s information about Holbein’s circle of friends like More, Cromwell, Erasmus, and Cranmer, it adds depth to his work. The amount of allusions and symbolism in these works of art is astounding, and you can spend hours just analyzing one piece at a time.

It is a spectacular biography that any Tudor or art fan will adore. Franny Moyle has created a vivid image of Holbein’s world that could stand side by side with one of his masterpieces. I purposely took my time to read this book slowly to absorb every minuscule detail that Moyle included about Holbein and his world. I know it is a book that I will personally reread in the future. If you want a definitive and delightful biography about the man behind the canvas, I highly recommend “ The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle.

Book Review: “Cecily Bonville-Grey- Marchioness of Dorset: From Riches to Royalty” by Sarah J. Hodder

60261127._SY475_In history, the stories of women closest to those who sat on the throne tend to shine a bit brighter than others. Their tales give us great insight into how their respective countries were run and how dangerous it could be to marry someone with royal blood in their veins. However, some of the tales get lost in the annals of the past, only to be discovered much later. One of those tales is the story of Cecily Bonville- Grey, the wife of Thomas Grey Marquis of Dorset. In her own right, an extremely wealthy woman, her marriage into the Grey family would help define the succession issue during the late Tudor dynasty. Her story is finally told in Sarah J. Hodder’s latest book, “Cecily Bonville-Grey- Marchioness of Dorset: From Riches to Royalty.”

I want to thank Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have previously read and enjoyed Hodder’s other books, The Queen’s Sisters and The York Princesses, so I knew I wanted to read it when I heard about this title. I will be honest, I have only heard about Cecily Bonville-Grey from another book about the Grey family, but it was a brief mention, so I was looking forward to reading more about her life.

Cecily Bonville- Grey was the only child of William Bonville and his wife Katherine, the daughter of Richard Neville. Cecily’s uncle was none other than Richard Duke of York. The Bonville men were loyal to King Henry VI, but when the king fell ill, the Bonvilles decided to switch their loyalty during the Wars of the Roses to the Yorkist cause. It was a risky move that would cost William Bonville his life, but in the end, Katherine and Cecily both survived the turmoil of the time. Katherine would marry William Hastings, and Cecily would marry Thomas Grey Marquis of Dorset.

Cecily and Thomas had a large family, and their connection with Richard III and Henry VII would be both rewarding as well as dangerous. With the threats from men like Perkin Warbeck, who wanted to steal the throne from Henry VII, men like Thomas Grey Marquis of Dorset would prove invaluable to refute their claim. Yet it was a double-edged sword as Thomas was often considered a threat to Henry VII. Thomas would die in 1501, leaving Cecily a wealthy widow in need of a second husband, and the man she chose was Lord Henry Stafford. This second marriage allowed the Grey family to flourish and become genuine contenders for the throne, even though that was not Cecily’s intent.

The story of Cecily Bonville- Grey is a delightful read. Sarah J. Hodder shone a light on a woman whose family tends to outshine her. I found Cecily’s story fascinating and gives readers a better understanding of how the transition from the Plantagenets to the Tudors affected those families closest to the throne. Suppose you want another fabulous book about a forgotten woman who lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. In that case, you should check out “Cecily Bonville-Grey- Marchioness of Dorset: From Riches to Royalty” by Sarah J. Hodder.

Book Review: “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay: Wife and Mother of the Last Plantagenets” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

59617178._SX318_In any dynasty, those closest to the throne are the most at risk of dealing with suspicions and conspiracies. Those who were not next in line for the throne were seen as threats, especially those whose bloodline was a bit stronger than those who sat on the throne. The Tudor dynasty’s biggest threat was the few Plantagenets who still lived at court. The family that had the most Plantagenet blood in their veins and poised the most significant threat was the Pole family. However, one woman who was very close to Henry VIII and his family married a man who had Plantagenet blood in his veins. Her name was Gertrude Courtenay, the Marchioness of Exeter, and her story is finally getting the light it deserves in Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay: Wife and Mother of the Last Plantagenets.”

I want to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of this book. I am always looking for new stories from the Tudor dynasty, especially about strong women, so I was intrigued when I heard about this title.

Gertrude Blount (later Courtenay) was the daughter of William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy, a distinguished humanist scholar and chamberlain to Katherine of Aragon. William would marry one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting, Inez de Venegas, and was made a Knight of the Bath by King Henry VIII. As the daughter of such an esteemed gentleman at court, Gertrude received an outstanding education and served Katherine of Aragon as one of her maids of honor.

In 1519, Gertrude married Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter and the first cousin of Henry VIII; his mother was Katherine Plantagenet of York, the younger sister of Elizabeth of York. Gertrude and Henry would stay loyal to Katherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary through The Great Matter, even when Anne Boleyn was queen; Gertrude was a godmother to Anne’s daughter Elizabeth. Even though Henry Courtenay and his son Edward was seen as a potential opponent to Henry VIII, they continued to curry royal favor.

Gertrude’s life was by no means perfect as she was involved in several scandals, including the one around Elizabeth Barton and the Exeter Conspiracy, which resulted in the death of her husband in 1538. Gertrude and Edward would spend time in the Tower, but fate had another twist to their story as young Edward was seen as a potential husband for Queen Mary I.

The strength and tenacity of Gertrude Courtenay are nothing short of admirable. To survive so many conspiracies and scandals during the Tudor dynasty was nothing short of extraordinary. Soberton’s writing style brings to life Gertrude’s story and illuminates one of the forgotten women of the Tudor dynasty. I hope others will appreciate Gertrude Courtenay’s story as much as I did when they read Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay: Wife and Mother of the Last Plantagenets.”